Reproductive Rights and Eternal Damnation

Two Saturdays ago, Sarah and I rose bright and early to catch a 6:39 F train to Jamaica Queens.

As we rounded the corner we saw the pro-lifers already there setting up, pulling huge signs depicting mutilated tissue and tiny hands on top of dimes and nickels for comparison.

We approached the clinic, and the escort coordinator Frank showed us inside, saying he recognized us as volunteers as soon as we came around the corner.  Our body language and recognition of the “anti” signs with knowing glances distinguished us immediately in his mind from the women we would be escorting into the clinic later that morning.

He explained that the few protesters outside were only the first shift, and soon more would appear— the preacher, the children, and other regulars weren’t there yet.  A fellow volunteer introduced himself, explaining that as local who grew up in this area, he had been disgusted by the protestors’ graphic signs, especially when neighborhood children walking past couldn’t avoid seeing them. Frank pointed out the discrepancies between the fetus’ development and the age that the posters claimed the fetus was, and explained that several of the photos were from miscarriages.

Our basic strategy was to spread out like the protesters and escort women entering the clinic to ensure that the protesters right to free speech did not cross the line into verbal or physical harassment.  We quickly explained to the women that we were with the clinic and could walk with them into the door.

As more of the regular “antis” arrived, the intersection beside the clinic became more tense.  Two young boys had arrived, and were holding up the signs alongside about 10 adult antis spread out across the city block.  The preacher was there and started yelling pronouncements about us, the women walking inside, and the passersby, as church volunteers pressed grotesque pamphlets into the hands of everyone who would accept them, boldly stating false information about abortion and about the clinic.

One woman was particularly vocal. Pacing back and forth in front of the clinic, she sped to the side of anyone who approached the clinic doors, exclaiming the sacred quality of a life, and the multitude of options. Many of the protesters did not seem to be aware that the clinic offers counseling before any surgical procedure and the option of extensive pre-natal care instead of abortion.  Frank had two volunteers walk on either side of her for a while to further limit her access to the clients.  She walked between us, decrying our choices and our sin in the midst of a basic gospel message, reminding us of a fast approaching judgment day.  We were soon joined by another protester who spoke of her arrogant college days, and asked me to reconsider the lives she insinuated that I personally was ending.  Frank smiled and laughed when we passed, joking that I shouldn’t worry about it, he’d hang out with me in hell, and we’d have a great time.

Several of the protesters in particular seemed to believe that their opinion was not only true, but also the only opinion that a Christian could have.  He looked shocked when he overheard Sarah and I talking about attending church together.  Another explained that “true Christians” couldn’t possibly believe in evolution or support marrying “the gays.”

I guess I don’t really have a well-developed take away message at this point, except that it’s very interesting to put yourself in a situation in which you are standing (or pacing) in direct opposition to the vehement moral beliefs of someone else.

But I went back again this past Saturday,
And I’ll be back in Queens bright and early next week.

2 thoughts on “Reproductive Rights and Eternal Damnation

  1. Your post really made the abortion debate come alive for me. I think of myself as pretty invested in the battle but I’ve never actually been on the front lines like this. It was both hard to imagine and easy to picture. I’ve never entirely understood the use of religion in this context – not so much in terms of what people believe, but in their use of religion to make everyone else wrong. That has always seemed to me to be so antithetical to aything religion is supposed to be about.

  2. Thank you for your very good description of a scene that so few of us ever see. What is interesting to me is that the “anti’s” take cover under the First Amendment but the scene you describe reminds us how First Amendment free speech rights often collide with other rights, like the rights fo these women to access the clinic. Indeed, without you and other volunteers like you, they might not be able to reach the door at all. They are lucky to have people like you.

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